Israeli musical artists received an earful of advice and offered an earful of music over the weekend. For the fourth year in a row Oleh Records collaborated with the local rockers, international festival curators, agents and label heads to mount Tune In Tel Aviv, a model of a modest, focused music showcase. The annual conference and music festival, organized by Tel Aviv-based Oleh Records, was a highly enjoyable and inspiring experience, with a lesson: music showcases don’t have to involve thousands of crazed fans covered in mud. Many small countries in what some might unfortunately call “secondary music markets” could easily take a cue from Tune in Tel Aviv.
Although the name implies a record label, Oleh Records is a non-profit organization promoting and aiding Israeli artists internationally.
“We are here to fill the gap in the market and bring attention to Israeli talent,” says founder/managing director Jeremy Hulsh, who added that he is concerned with the challenges the industry faces, but his approach is solution-centric.
Tune in Tel Aviv was held at eight venues with eight showcases, exposing 37 acts to the public and a crop of hand-picked international music industry insiders, including Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, Mute Records founder and producer Daniel Miller and representatives from international booking agencies and media like Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The Container at the old Jaffa Port and Kuli Alma were the first spots to set the stage for the official launch party at Papaito and Solo Club on Thursday. Papaito is a small pub, and was bursting at the seams, so much so that if you hadn’t arrived before 8 p.m. you were most likely to be found outside still waiting in the queue at 10 p.m.
When artists like Lucille, Tamir Grinberg, Acollective and The Angelcy played, much of the crowd stood transfixed. The most rapturous applause were reserved for alternative local bands like The Angelcy and Garden City Movement.
The next morning, the imitable Miller, UK music producer and founder of Mute Records (New Order, Erasure, Goldfrapp) was interviewing American Jewish record label legend Stein in Hanger 11, a converted warehouse turned performance hall in the Tel Aviv Port. The 72-year-old’s warm attitude was contagious, and the crowd applauded after he announced that the magic age for music discovery is when you’re 13 years old.
“That’s the music that sticks with you all your life,” he said, adding, “well, at least it has for me.”
Stein works directly with ADA, the indie arm of Warner Group, and is the torchbearer for independent artists.
“I have no talent, I can’t sing or play an instrument,” he said. “I am a fan.”
A discussion of the different ways in which Israeli musicians are judged in comparison to the rest of the world, led to questions from the audience about breaking into the the US and UK markets.
“What is the first thing a foreign independent artist should do to break into the US and UK?” Stein’s answer: “Hard work, love and courage.”
Maria May, chief agent for Creative Artist Agency and named one of the top 50 people in EDM (electronic dance music) by Rolling Stone after working with the likes of David Guetta and Paul Oakenfold, said in her session that she believes Tel Aviv has a lot of potential.
“If you love something and it touches you, you’ll do great work.”
Opinions and advice came fast and strong throughout the conference. Shirley Halperin, music editor for Billboard Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, recommended pursuing EDM because of its universal appeal and accessibility. Other topics whirled around the warehouse: the importance of working with the right management team, being searchable via platforms like Soundcloud/ Bandcamp, and perfecting live performance.
Halperin, May and Dave from from the US indie music blog, Brooklyn Vegan, advised that people still look for a visceral reaction, an engagement with a live audience.
During the “I Was(n’t) Born in the USA, So How Do I Cross Over?” session, moderator Mark Goodman, radio host on Sirius XM, talked about the “tyranny of distance” and how the word “distance” can infer difference.
Israel is culturally and geographically distant to the Western world, so singing in English is user-friendly.
“It’s all about creating opinion leaders here,” says Goodman, “because people from other countries like multicultural things with various facets.”
Founder of Culture Collide Festival Alan Miller said, “It’s a great story coming from Israel, rising from turmoil and using music as your voice.”
One message that was driven home to the young Israeli artists was that their secret weapon beyond mere ambiance and technique was their ability to use the current political landscape to stir emotions.
33-year-old rapper Rami Matan Even-Esh, aka Kosha Dillz, demonstrated how art and life mesh when he went straight from the conference to Har Nof (a day after the attacks).
Uri Marom of The Angelcy explained that the political situation in Israel is impossible to avoid, and said artists need to relate to it.
“In Israel we have to cope with a harder life, but before being Israeli we are human beings experiencing the same things, love, life and death, but the difference is we’re still trying to understand where we fit into this world,” he said.
Gadi Gidor, Head of A&R NMC United, added, “You have to have your compass as to what you want to do, your vision is very important.”
The upshot of Tune in Tel Aviv 2014 is that although Israel’s music scene is small, there are highly passionate people doing big things. As Rolling Stone writer Benjy Eisen told the audience, “Music is still the signifier, it’s the international language.”